Parents of disabled children ‘desperate’ for committee to reconsider cuts to short breaks

Desperate: Rose Charles and grandaughter Sophie

PARENTS at a special primary school in Whetstone who have had all council funding for its ten-day summer break scheme withdrawn say they are “desperate” to be be able to ask councillors to cancel the cut.

Oakleigh School in Oakleigh Road North, which caters for children with severe and complex learning and physical difficulties was one of ten service providers to have their short-break funding cut by the council in April.

The £38,000 cut means that the school’s summer holiday respite scheme, which was due to start at the end of July, will no longer be available to around 50 pupils.

Mapledown School in Claremont Road, which provides short-breaks for older disabled pupils was the only school to be given a year’s reprieve following a campaign by parents, but the new children and education committee had been due to reconsider cuts to all ten contracts at its first meeting next week.

However, concerns over member allocation on all committees plunged the council into a constitutional crisis and as it stands no committees will be able to make legally binding decisions until seats are reallocated at the next full council meeting on July 15.

Parent Beverley Cohen, 49, whose seven-year-old daughter Liora has learning difficulties and suffers from severe epilepsy, said parents were disappointed they would not be given the chance to present their case for saving the holiday scheme.

She said: “We are desperate people. These play schemes are lifelines. Not having it would push us into crisis mode.

“Respite has saved my life.”

Rose Charles, whose granddaughter Sophie, 7, suffers from multi-focal epilepsy said Oakleigh’s scheme was the only place many parents felt safe sending their children.

She said: “It is the only opportunity for respite because our children all have very individual needs. The staff at the scheme are from the school and so are very specialised.”

Labour’s Parliamentary candidate for Finchley and Golders Green Sarah Sackman has called on the council to find a way of dealing with the issue as a matter of urgency.

She said: “The constitutional shambles at Barnet Council is having real impacts on local families of disabled children with whom I am working closely. The council needs to get a grip of the situation.

“The issue needs to be looked at as a matter of urgency and I call on council leader Richard Cornelius to convene an urgency committee to look into short breaks situation and restore funding to these vital services.”

Mr Cornelius said he hoped next week’s committee would go ahead but that he would consider holding an urgent meeting if it did not.